Aging, free radicals and damaged skin
The environment, particularly exposure to UV from the sun, contributes to skin damage and together with the natural aging process causes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive chemicals produced by oxidation, which is a chemical reaction that occurs in the body as a result of normal metabolism or due to environmental factors such as UV radiation or pollution and cigarette smoke. Free radicals can cause cell damage and cell death and are thought to contribute to skin damage. Antioxidants are stable compounds that neutralise free radicals and therefore, protect against the damage they can cause. Some antioxidants like glutathione occur naturally in the body, they can also be obtained from the diet in a range of fruits and vegetables, such as Vitamin E, the most common fat-soluble antioxidant and Vitamin C, the most common water-soluble antioxidant.
As we age the appearance of the skin changes, the epidermis becomes thinner, less collagen is produced and more moisture is lost, all of which are accelerated by UV exposure. Age-related changes in melanocyte (cells that produce the pigment melanin) size and activity, can result in the formation of large patches of pigment known as age spots, liver spots or lentigos.
The visible signs of aging and the impact of the environment on the skin include dryness, fine lines and wrinkles and dullness of complexion. These signs are a reflection of changes in the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin due to environmental damage, loss of collagen and elastin, and loss of moisture, resulting in reduced elasticity and thinning of the skin.
Dietary supplements, containing a marine extract rich in proteins and polysaccharides similar to those naturally found in connective tissue and containing vitamin C, zinc, and other antioxidants like lycopene, have been found to help restore the structure and function of damaged and aging skin. Scientific studies have shown that when this extract is added to skin in tissue culture, there was an increased production of collagen and elastin, increased life span of skin cells in culture, improved dermal and epidermal skin structure, reduced amount of free radicals produced and reduced damage caused by UV radiation. When taken orally this extract helped enhance the quality and appearance of skin over the whole body as well as the face, reducing loss of moisture in the skin and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 1
Certain medications that are generally used for treating acne can also be helpful for reducing skin blemishes, including azaleic acid and tretinoin.
Tretinoin is an active metabolite of Vitamin A that interacts with retinoid receptors in skin cells and affects several processes, including cell growth, proliferation and differentiation, and production of sebum. It also increases collagen and elastin production and inhibits the activity of certain enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. Tretinoin works by blocking the keratinisation process, which is hardening of the outer skin layer due to deposition of keratin; also by promoting skin turnover replacing old damaged skin with new skin, which helps the natural exfoliation process of the outer skin layer. Increased collagen helps restore skin flexibility. All these actions contribute to the anti-aging action of tretinoin, which can be used as topical treatment in a cream or gel to reduce visible signs of ageing on the face, including age spots and fine wrinkles. Other effects include lightening of age spots or pigmented patches of skin.
Azelaic acid is a natural product with keratolytic properties. Like tretinoin it speeds up skin turnover by promoting the shedding of old damaged skin and growth of new skin cells.
Treatments for scars
Scar formation is a result of the wound healing process, which is triggered when the integrity of the skin is broken due to damage or injury, including cuts, burns, surgery and acne. This process comprises several stages, which are haemostasis (stopping bleeding and plugging broken blood vessels), inflammation, in which special cells remove bacteria and debris from damaged tissue, and produce chemicals that stimulate new cell growth to replace damaged skin and blood vessels; also collagen is produced to replace connective tissue. Finally the tissue is remodelled to restore skin as close as possible to its pre-wound state. However, most scars do not have the appearance or texture of normal skin and may be raised due to excess collagen, lower than surrounding skin due to insufficient collagen or less flexible due to defects in the remodelling process. A topical herbal gel based on onion extract that contains the active ingredient cepalin, has been found to help improve the appearance of scars and stretch marks (overstretching of the connective tissue of skin) and can be used to help make scars less noticeable by improving the softness, texture and overall appearance of the scar.
Vicanova J, Bouez C, Lacroix S,Lindmark L,Damour O. Epidermal and dermal characteristics in skin equivalent after systemic and topical application of skin care ingredients. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 May;1067:337-42.